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Friday, February 19, 2016

"Spiritual Companioning" (Angela H. Reed, Richard R. Osmer, & Marcus G. Smucker)

TITLE: Spiritual Companioning: A Guide to Protestant Theology and Practice
AUTHOR: Angela H. Reed, Richard R. Osmer, & Marcus G. Smucker
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2015, (186 pages).

Every believer wants to grow but not all of them know how. While Church attendance is important, going to Church alone does not necessarily make one a growing Christian. We all need spiritual growth. We need to make disciples and obey the commandments of God. According to the authors, we need spiritual direction. As many of the resources available out there are of Roman Catholic origin, this book offers spiritual direction from a Protestant orientation, that draws from the riches of tradition and evangelical spirituality. In this book, spiritual companioning means "a way of accompanying others in intentional relationships of prayerful reflection and conversation that help them notice God's presence and calling in their personal lives, local communities, and the world."

Like any good scholar, the authors give us a working definition of terms that can be commonly misunderstood or used too interchangeably. Terms such as:
  • Christian Spirituality
  • Spiritual Guidance
  • Spiritual Direction
  • Spiritual Friendship
  • Spiritual Practice

Angela Reed grew up in a Mennonite tradition but is now serving in a Baptist seminary, teaching spiritual direction. Rick Osmer is raised Presbyterian and has studied together with Henri Nouwen, the famous Catholic writer known for his insightful spiritual writings. Osmer was also Reed's PhD supervisor at Princeton Theological Seminary. Marcus Smucker was raised Anabaptist and continues to serve in this denomination, teaching spiritual formation at Eastern Mennonite Seminary.

In this book, readers will learn about the seven different contexts of spiritual companioning. First and foremost, it is about the practice of the presence of God and of people. Our world of busyness and stress have largely resulted in social detachment from people. We have lost the art of connecting deeply with people, preferring to sacrifice authentic relationships for activities. In such a climate, spiritual companioning helps us to reconnect our basic need by walking with someone spiritually, building on the foundation of Scripture. Being fully present means learning to listen prayerfully, being respectful and empathetic; reflecting together; speaking the truth in love; naming and sharing experiences; and participation in both pastoral support and small groups.

Second, it can be practiced within the context of the congregation. We need to move away from a "seeker-oriented spirituality" toward a "dwelling-oriented spirituality." The former searches for a spiritual home while the latter aims toward making a spiritual home. The Protestant tradition includes the early Anabaptists who created committed communities of faith; the early Methodist circles led by John Wesley; and Dietrich Bonhoeffer's vision of living together. There is a lot of emphasis on "one-another-ness."

The third context is that of one-to-one spiritual direction. This requires an experienced spiritual director, to help one listen to Scripture and to learn the tools of spiritual direction. The sixth century desert monks' spiritual practices; the teachings of Frances de la Sales and Ignatius of Loyola, form a common heritage the Protestant tradition is part of. We learn about welcoming and the gift of hospitality. We learn covenanting, listening, praying, discerning and noticing God. Several stories and conversations are included to give readers an idea of what it is.

Four, spiritual companioning can also be done in small groups. Good preaching and good small group companioning are the two essentials here. Readers learn of the five core elements of a good small group: 1) Creating healthy boundaries to build commitment; 2) Honest sharing and self-disclosure to promote healing and sharing; 3) Praying for one another and listening well; 4) Equipping for ministry outside the group; 5) engaging Scripture meaningfully. Recognizing the gender uniqueness, there is also a section on small groups companioning for women.

Five, we can also practice spiritual companioning in everyday life. This we can do with noticing everyday living; setting accountability with people; praying the Scriptures as we engage daily life; and learning to practice the presence of God just like Brother Lawrence.

Six, we move on to the spiritual companioning in our journey of life. This makes sense as we grow from one phase to another over time. Not only that, we also engage different generations at various junctures of life. The authors introduce us to the "Life Course Theory" to supplement the spiritual companioning exercises described. Some tools include the use of spiritual autobiography; mutual gathering and sharing of personal stories.

Finally, there is spiritual companioning for leaders. Many of us know that leaders can often be in a lonely place. There are many things that are too private and confidential to share. Using the doctor of ministry program as an example, we learn about how students in ministry positions develop and maintain personal covenants and how the leaders maintain their relationships with God; with self; with people close to us; and with others in ministry.

There are many good things to say about this book. It is very well structured, just like any good academic would frame out. The cultural contexts help us begin where we are and the society we are in. We see historical references for us to learn from tradition and to be reminded that spiritual companioning is not a new thing. The telling of stories and helping one another tell their own stories are core requirements of spiritual direction. Plus, there are many practical activities to help us put the spiritual direction into tangible actions. This is one of the clearest guides on spiritual direction.  I strongly recommend this for the use in Christian communities at all levels.

Rating: 5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Baker Academic and Graf-Martin Communications in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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